Charles Ephraim Burchfield 1893-1967

Lull in Summer Rain

  • 13 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches (34.3 x 49.5 cm)
  • Watercolor
  • Signed and dated lower right: Charles Burchfield 1916
  • 1916

Why We Love It

Charles Ephraim Burchfield must have lived in the fantastical world of his own imagination and senses. Rather than depicting a bucolic landscape, he painted the aura of that landscape. In this work, the rainstorm is the energizing force. The sky and darkened clouds are the focus of the scene and the small house is dominated by the overwhelming power of nature. Burchfield, in his deeply personal way, illuminates the essence of moments like a “Lull in Summer Rain.”

The Value

Charles Ephraim Burchfield’s works from this early period (1916) are fantastical and almost child-like. He often said that his career as an artist began in 1915, when the ideas that formed the basis for his art and visualizing concepts directly from nature rather than in the studio, took root. “Lull in summer Rain” is a wonderful example of the art that was created from this energetic and transformative time in the artist’s life. This work is in exceptionally fine condition and is museum mounted and framed.

Artist Background

1893: Born in Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio; 1912-16: Attended Cleveland School of Art; 1915: Claimed later in life that this year was “true beginning of his career as a painter;” 1916: Awarded scholarship to attend National Academy of Design. Moved to New York City. Attended program for one day before dropping out. Stayed in New York for 6 weeks, then returned to Ohio; 1916-22: Exhibited widely at various Cleveland venues; 1917: Created series of motifs he called Conventions for Abstract Thoughts. Painted over 200 works and began incorporating boyhood memories. 1920: Had solo show Drawings in Watercolor by Charles Burchfield at Kevorkian Galleries in New York; 1925: Moved with family to Gardenville, New York, where he lived until his death; 1928: Edward Hopper wrote essay on Burchfield, which appeared in Arts magazine; 1929-67: Exhibited widely at art galleries and museums worldwide; 1940-55: Served on Guggenheim Fellowship selection committee; 1942: Received Award of Merit Medal, National Institute of Arts and Letters; 1953: The Cleveland Museum of Art hosted The Drawings of Charles E. Burchfield; 1956: The Whitney Museum of American Art hosted Charles Burchfield; 1960: Awarded Gold Medal of American Academy of Arts and Letters; 1967: Died.

Charles Burchfield painted Lull in Summer Rain during what is called the early period of his career from 1915 to 1921.  He had completed his schooling at the Cleveland School of Art and returned home to Salem, Ohio, where he lived with his mother and worked full time as an accountant, since he could not find steady work as an illustrator.  Despite his busy work schedule he completed 500 watercolors from 1916 to 1918, nearly a quarter of his lifetime production.  To create them he rushed home at lunch to begin a sketch, went back to work, then finished the painting in the evening after putting in a full day at the office.

Burchfield’s style and working method during this period was very much influenced by the teaching of Arthur Wesley Dow.  He was exposed to Dow’s extremely influential book Composition while he studied at Cleveland.  In it, Dow passionately espouses his theory that design is the fundamental basis of painting – a rhythmic harmony of colored spaces.  Dow also believed that there was a mystical aspect to a composition, that an artist could and should embody the very essence of being in his or her work.  Burchfield was extremely receptive to Dow’s technical and spiritual methodology.  In the Paintings of Charles Burchfield: North by Midwest, Henry Adams writes that the artist combined his “interest in simplified, abstract design with a desire to commune with the fundamental forces of nature.”  He also developed a strong sense of place that was brought to life by his use of a decorative visual language that used repetition, pattern, and shape to great effect.

In Lull in Summer Rain we see Burchfield’s early approach to art making come to life.  He chose a real place and real building, as he did in all of his work from this period, but he infused it with a sense of mystery.  The alternating pattern of the trees and bright colors contrast sharply with the gray sky that is organized into a montage of almost foreboding shapes. The result is a compelling juxtaposition of mood and intensity that Burchfield would develop into his singular artistic vision throughout his career.